(From the 1886 Cassell & Company edition)
Charles P. Moritz's "Travels, chiefly on foot, through several parts
of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend," were
translated from the German by a lady, and published in 1795. John
Pinkerton included them in the second volume of his Collection of
Voyages and Travels.
The writer of this account of England as it was about a hundred
years ago, and seven years before the French Revolution, was a young
Prussian clergyman, simply religious, calmly enthusiastic for the
freer forms of citizenship, which he found in England and contrasted
with the military system of Berlin. The touch of his times was upon
him, with some of the feeling that caused Frenchmen, after the first
outbreak of the Revolution, to hail Englishmen as "their forerunners
in the glorious race." He had learnt English at home, and read
Milton, whose name was inscribed then in German literature on the
banners of the free.
In 1782 Charles Moritz came to England with little in his purse and
"Paradise Lost" in his pocket, which he meant to read in the Land of
Milton. He came ready to admire, and enthusiasm adds some colour to
his earliest impressions; but when they were coloured again by hard
experience, the quiet living sympathy remained. There is nothing
small in the young Pastor Moritz, we feel a noble nature in his true
simplicity of character.
He stayed seven weeks with us, three of them in London. He
travelled on foot to Richmond, Windsor, Oxford, Birmingham, and
Matlock, with some experience of a stage coach on the way back; and
when, in dread of being hurled from his perch on the top as the
coach flew down hill, he tried a safer berth among the luggage in
the basket, he had further experience. It was like that of Hood's
old lady, in the same place of inviting shelter, who, when she crept
out, had only breath enough left to murmur, "Oh, them boxes!"
Pastor Moritz's experience of inns was such as he hardly could pick
up in these days of the free use of the feet. But in those days
everybody who was anybody rode. And even now, there might be cold
welcome to a shabby-looking pedestrian without a knapsack. Pastor
Moritz had his Milton in one pocket and his change of linen in the
other. From some inns he was turned away as a tramp, and in others
he found cold comfort. Yet he could be proud of a bit of practical
wisdom drawn by himself out of the "Vicar of Wakefield," that taught
him to conciliate the innkeeper by drinking with him; and the more
the innkeeper drank of the ale ordered the better, because Pastor
Moritz did not like it, and it did not like him. He also felt
experienced in the ways of the world when, having taken example from
the manners of a bar-maid, if he drank in a full room he did not
omit to say, "Your healths, gentlemen all."
Fielding's Parson Adams, with his AEschylus in his pocket, and
Parson Moritz with his Milton, have points of likeness that bear
strong witness to Fielding's power of entering into the spirit of a
true and gentle nature. After the first touches of enthusiastic
sentiment, that represent real freshness of enjoyment, there is no
reaction to excess in opposite extreme. The young foot traveller
settles down to simple truth, retains his faith in English
character, and reports ill-usage without a word of bitterness.
The great charm of this book is its unconscious expression of the
writer's character. His simple truthfulness presents to us of 1886
as much of the England of 1782 as he was able to see with eyes full
of intelligence and a heart full of kindness. He heard Burke speak
on the death of his friend and patron Lord Rockingham, with sudden
rebuke to an indolent and inattentive house. He heard young Pitt,
and saw how he could fix, boy as he looked, every man's attention.
"Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion."
And when the power is so friendly as that of the Pastor Moritz, we
may, if wise, know ourselves better than from a thousand satires,
but if foolish we may let all run into self-praise.
On the Thames, 31st May.
At length, my dearest Gedike, I find myself safely landed on the
happy shores of that country, a sight of which has, for many years,
been my most earnest wish; and whither I have so often in
imagination transported myself. A few hours ago the green hills of
England yet swam imperfectly before our eyes, scarcely perceptible
in the distant horizon: they now unfold themselves on either side,
forming as it were a double amphitheatre. The sun bursts through
the clouds, and gilds alternately the shrubs and meadows on the
distant shores, and we now espy the tops of two masts of ships just
peeping above the surface of the deep. What an awful warning to
adventurous men! We now sail close by those very sands (the
Goodwin) where so many unfortunate persons have found their graves.
The shores now regularly draw nearer to each other: the danger of
the voyage is over; and the season for enjoyment, unembittered by
cares, commences. How do we feel ourselves, we, who have long been
wandering as it were, in a boundless space, on having once more
gained prospects that are not without limits! I should imagine our
sensations as somewhat like those of the traveller who traverses the
immeasurable deserts of America, when fortunately he obtains a hut
wherein to shelter himself; in those moments he certainly enjoys
himself; nor does he then complain of its being too small. It is
indeed the lot of man to be always circumscribed to a narrow space,
even when he wanders over the most extensive regions; even when the
huge sea envelops him all around, and wraps him close to its bosom,
in the act, as it were, of swallowing him up in a moment: